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On many farms, it is common for children to ride along with mom or dad in the combine or tractor. I know I have fond memories of riding in the tractor, sitting on a stool beside my dad. Whether intentional or not, this is the beginning of a training program that will turn your kids into farmers. It’s a model that can be expanded on to make sure they know everything they need to know, including farm management, to be as successful as you’ve been.
The benefit of farming as a business is that it allows children to be part of the farm and learn about it at an early age. By the time they graduate from high school, they’ll have accumulated hundreds of ‘ride along hours’, and in the process, will have learned important skills. They may already be taking on important roles on the farm— like operating equipment or handling livestock—before they head off to university or college.
This hands-on teaching method is very effective at transferring necessary skills. The other benefit of a ride along approach is that mentorship happens over a relatively long period of time, giving you plenty of opportunity for feedback and development.
So how does the ride along apply to farm management? The same principles can be used to develop a similar mentorship program to adequately train the next generation in managing a farming operation. Below are three tips to help you get your ride along started.
Expose them to the business side of your operation. If you expect your kids to take over management of the farm business, they should learn about the business as early as possible. I’m not suggesting you bring your eight-year-old to a meeting with your accountant, but if your children are interested in taking over one day, they should start to attend these meetings once they are working on the farm full-time. This may seem simple enough, but I’ve met many farm families where the kids have been working on the farm for more than five years and want to take over the business, but have never seen the farm’s financial statements.
Have a plan for how you want them to participate. When you bring your kid along, set reasonable outcomes for what you want them to take away from the experience. For example, the next time you attend a tradeshow, take a list of information you want to acquire before you leave the show. You may want to include a stop at your grain buyer to see if they are offering a show special for fall crop bookings or some information on a new piece of equipment. With a plan in hand, you can involve your kids in the discussion process and create an opportunity for them to learn.
Bring them along, no matter what! Did I mention how important it is to bring them along? Sometimes people won’t, especially if the farm is struggling financially, because they don’t want their kids to know how bad things are. In the same way your kids were alongside you in the field fighting the mud or combining in a drought, they need to be with you learning about the business no matter what. It helps them understand why decisions are made and provides you with a different perspective. If they are involved in solving the problem, they will also be more determined to make the solution work.
It may seem strange at first, but taking the time to explain to your kids the importance of the business aspects of farming and having them ‘ride along’ with you increases their learning and exposure to all sides of farming. When the time comes for them to take over the family farm, they’ll have a better likelihood of thriving and provide you with the peace of mind and resources you need to retire in comfort.
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